The other day my favorite high school teacher sent me this message:

Of college days and beyond 1

It’s been 15 years since I graduated from high school in Calcutta. Talk about time flying! Since 2006, both my teacher and I have moved countries — she’s currently the vice-principal of a school in Dubai, and when she reached out, I was struck by nostalgia.

Flashback to 2006: All boys’ school. All 12 years. 180 odd students per batch. Most of us upto no good. And the camaraderie. And the inside jokes. You get the drift 🙂 (I’m grinning as I write this).

There was no way I could say no.

Fast Forward to 2020: So I agreed to address these students. Except I had no idea what I’d be talking about. After 7-10 days of debating ideas in my head, I put together a few slides spread across 3 sections — mostly on life and my own experiences that I thought might be remotely useful for these bright, young minds.

Happy to report that the kids liked it. More importantly, my favourite high school teacher loved it. Here are snippets from those slides, edited keeping in mind the audience and format.

Section A | The Short View: Things that worked for me + Things I wish I had known for the first 5 years out of high school

  1. It is OK to not know what you are passionate about/interested in. Life is long and will give you several chances, especially as a young, college student. Feel free to switch careers, trajectories, and geographies if you have to, until you find your thing
  2. It is NOT OK to use bullet point #1 as an excuse to do something half-heartedly. While life gives you several chances, it is incumbent on you to do justice to what you are currently doing —if only to realise that it’s not for you. True self-awareness emerges from real commitment and immersion
  3. The perils of social media are real: when you find yourself comparing your life to someone else’s on Instagram, you are making an apples to oranges comparison. In cricketing speak, you are comparing the ‘highlights reel’ of someone else’s life with your ‘replay reel’ that you live on a day to day basis. Don’t do that. Measure screen time and limit your social media exposure to <2 hours / day
  4. Leverage your student passport: As a young college student, you have an amazing passport to reach out to almost anyone in the world and schedule a 30-minute phone / virtual call or a coffee chat. Use it! Find mentors, learn about an industry! #serendipity
  5. Take your health seriously: College is a great time to create / augment an exercise routine. Embrace it and stick to it for as long as you can. When it comes to mental health, shed any stigma associated with it. Seek help, if you need to

Section B | The Long View – Things that worked for me + Things I wish I had known 5+ years out of high school

  1. Learn the art of asking good questions: Life is an ongoing quest to learn more. At the heart of this quest, rests the art of asking good questions: make your questions pointed or subtle, based on the situation. Sometimes ask questions not because you want an answer, but because you want the other person to think
  2. Internalise how EQ trumps IQ: Our society celebrates high IQ, as it should. But in most collaborative environments, EQ matters more. Start cultivating it – observe, listen, smile, and practice empathy. If you were to pick 2, choose listening more and smiling often. You will be surprised how far it goes
  3. Have no more friends than the number of fingers on your hands: It is tough to be a good friend and to find one. When you do, hold on to them tight. They will be the ones who stand by you through thick and thin

Section C | Concluding Thoughts – Things I am still learning

  1. Write your own, unique story for your life: Don’t compare your journey with someone else’s. We are all born different and experience life and living differently. Acknowledge this and embrace this
  2. Give it your best. But remember there are many things outside your control: Call it what you may – luck, karma, fate, destiny – but life does not always go as planned. Keep perspective for it always comes around
  3. There’s no such thing as failure, save perhaps for moral failure. And as long as you are not failing morally, you are always in the game. Keep the faith. Persist
  4. And finally, have fun. Because it goes by quickly. Some days might feel long but the months are short, and the years shorter. Seems only yesterday when the 180 of us were together. Largely upto no good 🙂

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